Back in September I published an article in which I discussed the importance of this season for the New York Giants franchise. I laid out the framework of this Giants team and its staff and outlined where I thought we would see the most promise this season. I suggested that this year would be an indicator of what the future holds for the Gmen, and I believe that such sentiment still holds true. Now that the season has concluded it seems like an appropriate time to revisit these thoughts and examine the positive and negative outcomes of the 2020 season.
The Coaching Staff
The Giants got a complete coaching overhaul this past offseason, and going into the year with limited training camp and no preseason games placed an even larger strain on the new regime. However, my confidence in Joe Judge and new coordinators Jason Garrett and Patrick Graham was certainly high coming into the year.
The lack of a preseason was certainly evident in the early stages of the year. The Giants didn’t get their first win until week six, and they immediately followed up that victory with two straight losses. But this team showed promise and a sense of identity, rattling off a four-game winning streak that sandwiched their bye week. Because of the timing of the bye week there was a whole month where the giants didn’t lose a football game!
In my original article I said the Giants would have to rely on a weak NFC East to get many victories this season, and that held true. Four out of their six victories this season came against NFCE opponents, sweeping the season series against Washington and winning a game each against Dallas and Philadelphia. They also secured victories against a Bengals team that was missing Joe Burrow and a surprise victory against the Seahawks, though after watching the Seahawks for the rest of this year and in the playoffs that victory becomes a lot less impressive.
Although the Giants did lose their fair share of games this season, they were still competitors in a majority of their contests. They lost five games by one possession, including three against playoff teams; those four teams were the Bears, the Rams, and a two-point loss to the Bucaneers. The influence of the coaching staff definitely became evident as the season went on. While in previous years the team might have lost focus or given up, this coaching staff kept the teams drive intact and I believe showed evidence of what can be a winning culture under Joe Judge.
Patrick Graham had this defense humming and kept opposing offenses guessing with varying blitz angles and tricky coverage schemes. Opposing teams averaged 22.3 points per game against this defense. Graham was floated for numerous head coaching vacancies, but instead signed an extension in New York. Giants fans should rejoice.
On the offensive side, Jason Garrett’s unit had less success, ranking second to last in both yards per game and points per game and tied for last in touchdown passes. Some of that can be chalked up to particular situation surrounding this year, namely an injured Saquon Barkley as well as a young and inexperienced offensive line. However, he did show he can get success out of Daniel Jones and could lead this offense creatively when necessary. Fans are not impressed, and some members of the media have named him the most disappointing part of the Giants 2020 season. His future with the team is in doubt, as there is apparently interest in him for head coaching vacancies as well. Freddie Kitchens would be a logical replacement if he were to leave, although the Giants seem to believe they would benefit from the continuity if he were to stay.
The Offensive Players
Let’s just start with the biggest name on the roster, Saquon Barkley. Coming into the season he was one of the biggest reasons to be excited about Giants Football, but in week two he suffered a torn ACL and missed the rest of the season. This is now the second season in which Barkley has missed time due to injury, and knee injuries can be career altering for runningbacks. Adrian Peterson had a monster year following his knee injury so there is certainly hope Saquon will return with little to no difference in play quality.
Another light of hope in the Giants rushing attack is Wayne Gallman, the fourth year back out of Clemson. Gallman stepped up in the absence of Barkley and showed that he can be an NFL-level rusher. He posted 682 yards rushing on 147 attempts for a yards per carry of 4.6. He added an additional 114 yards receiving on 21 catches. Up until this season he hadn’t had more than a few flashes of NFL success and this year it was like everything finally clicked for him. He showed a better ability to see the field and break runs into the second level. Surely the Giants will use him and Barkley as more of a committee next season, potentially limiting the injury risk for Barkley.
Daniel Jones also made good strides this season. Early on we saw what we expected from Jones, rash decision making and turnovers that killed offensive drives. Eventually as the season went on we saw that Jones could go multiple games without committing turnovers and he showed that he can lead this offense successfully, especially when playing at a high tempo. He threw for 2,943 yards and rushed for 423, and his touchdown to interception ratio was 11:10. He definitely earned another season as a starter, and his backup Colt McCoy showed why he should get another season, stepping in for an injured Jones and winning the game in Seattle. I would not be surprised, however, if the Giants draft a quarterback to develop behind Jones.
The Giants receiving core also showed some promise this year. Both Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard have the ability to be receivers in the NFL, though Slayton needs to address the issue of dropped passes. Slayton and Shepard were the team leaders in receiving yards. The Giants also got quality play from multiple veteran players, especially Golden Tate.
Evan Engram was worked into this offense extensively, posting the third highest number of receiving yards on this team while also regularly taking the ball on handoffs. Despite his athleticism he still manages to be a negative player in this Giants offense. He was a league leader in dropped passes this year with eleven, three of which turned into interceptions. Those drops are estimated at costing the giants 35 points, a nauseating number when you consider the Giants averaged 17.5 points per game.
His most glaring drop came against the Eagles, where he dropped a dime of a pass from Daniel Jones that would have gotten the Giants a first down and sealed the game. That loss ended up being costly as the Giants came one victory short of going to the playoffs. This is a league where tight end play is not only valued, it’s absolutely necessary. If you look across the league there are numerous teams that found quality tight ends in all rounds of the draft. There is no reason for the Giants to hold on to a player like Engram, as he is bad for this offense and even worse for the development of Jones. If Dave Gettleman cannot find a replacement this offseason, whether it be through the draft or free agency, I will consider it a failure of leadership.
The offensive line was a sore spot early in the season, but following a midseason coaching adjustment, this unit showed solid direction for the remainder of the year. They got valuable playing time from rookies Andrew Thomas and Shane Lemieux. Third year guard Nick Gates moved over to center and proved to be serviceable, while the Giants also got reliable play from veterans Kevin Zeitler and Cameron Fleming. I’m looking forward to the continued improvement on the offensive line and for young talent to continue to be added through the draft. Look for Matt Peart to break into the starting rotation next season.
The Defensive Players
I can honestly only speak glowingly about this defense. Patrick Graham used these players in the most appropriate ways and got wildly impressive performances out of a lot of them. Gettleman’s free agent signings also turned out to be gems of acquisitions. The defense was the only reason the Giants were even close in most of these games, and in some they even provided offense. This defense showed that they are the true identity of this football team and that concept is so exciting to me I have goosebumps just writing this.
Starting with the defensive line, good god did these guys have some push. Led by Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson, this unit showed the ability to move the line of scrimmage and compress pockets. Williams led the team with 11.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. They were also a force in run stopping and will continue to be a facet of this team that is worth being excited about.
Perhaps the most important position on the field, the Middle Linebacker, has been a sore spot for Giants teams in recent years. Step in Blake Martinez. Martinez signed with the Giants in free agency, coming over from the Packers. He was an animal at linebacker for the Gmen, leading the team with 151 total tackles, 86 solo, and 11 TFL. He added one interception, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. I cannot wait to see what he brings in the 2021 season. The rest of the linebackers were solid as well, as Tae Crowder finished with 57 total tackles.
That leaves us with the secondary. James Bradberry proved to be a solid signing and led the team with 18 pass deflections and 3 interceptions while consistently drawing matchups with the opponent’s best receiver. There is constant confidence with him back there in coverage. Cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Julian Love and safety Jabrill Peppers all posted impressive tackle numbers and helped give this defense its lockdown reputation.
Expect the defensive side of the football to continue getting attention from this coaching unit and from the general manager. I would expect to see linebackers in the draft as well as potentially a cornerback, though Gettleman hasn’t shown that he can draft well at cornerback. I would not be disappointed in a draft that focused on the offensive side of the football but would be extremely excited to see what Patrick Graham can dial up with athletes on his defense.
The Special Teams
The most forgotten about unit. The Giants got reliable kicking from Graham Gano and solid punting from Riley Dixon, and I would expect both players to stay in those roles for the foreseeable future. Running back Dion Lewis led the team in return yards and handled a majority of those duties. He was on a one-year contract so its undetermined who will have the returner role in 2021.
2021 and The Future
The Giants showed this season that they have the makeup of a team that can contend for the NFC East title. I believe in a year or two they will be ready to make some serious noise in the playoffs, especially with a defense that is this exciting. Joe Judge showed that it doesn’t take more than a season to instill a winning culture in a football team. Giants fans should expect exciting football to return to East Rutherford and hopefully eventually some hardware to go along with it.